Go to the Web. Click. Buy a team.

Ebbsfleet United logo

We snobs rail against the unwashed sports fans.

“Hi, Dan, this is Godzilla Guy from Burnsville. First-time caller. Love your show. I’m so bummed. I think the Vikings should fire … “

We highfalutin sports analysts scoff at such commitment to the irrelevance of a traded shortstop, the selection of a third-round draft choice or the severity of some zillionaire player’s knee injury.

But what is fandom — or sports-talk radio or the Monday morning water cooler — but a de facto social network? What is a “fan club” but a web of affinity, a jockcentric tribe that’s loyal to a uniform, to a franchise that these fanatics live and die for as if they owned it.

As if they owned it.

Earlier this month, a genuine 21st-century broadband social network bought a team. It’s called MyFootballClub.com. It takes the “Green Bay Packer model” to a whole new level.

Fans to coach: You’re fired
In England, 20,000 fans with their PayPal accounts and credit cards, have purchased a team — a minor league one, at that, Ebbsfleet United in Kent, an hour’s train ride southeast of London.

Instead of venting to a radio show, the fans/owners can fire and hire and determine which free agents to sign. The ownership paradigm of professional sports is suddenly streaming in new directions.

For years, some Minnesotans, mostly led by activist, lobbyist and baseball fan Julian Loscalzo, pushed for “community ownership” of the Twins. Their argument: If citizen/taxpayers are going to be asked to finance or fund stadiums — which are depreciating assets — then these same same taxpayers should get a piece of the franchise, which — as former Vikings’ owner Red McCombs can attest — is a wildly appreciating asset.

The legislation that approved a Twins ballpark includes a clause that says, if and when the Twins are put on the selling block by the Pohlad family, then a mechanism may be triggered that would allow for the selling of stock certificates to the public to keep the franchise in Minnesota.

But never did even Loscalzo — a sports Commie to the hilt — ever assert that the operating decisions of a team should be handed over to the chest-painted, beer-barfing consumer.

This is different
Will Brooks, 37, is the mastermind behind MyFootballClub and its recent agreement to purchase Ebbsfleet United for, so far, an undisclosed amount.

Ebbsfleet United is in England’s Fifth Division, a minor league not unlike the St. Paul Saints baseball team. Total player payroll is 400,000 pounds, or $825,000.

“Some make 80 pounds a week,” Brooks told me in a phone chat from his London home. “Some are still living with their parents. It’s a nice level for people to get involved.”

If you want to get involved, go back to MyFootballClub’s site, log in, ship off your one year’s dues of 35 pounds, or $72, and — voila — you own the chance to make major decisions.

MyFootballClub’s site will serve as a soapbox for owner/members to “advise” each other on those decisions, Brooks said. Sports, blogging, social networking, online retail. It’s the perfect Web storm.

Upside clause exists
Short of “ownership,” the public’s deal with the Twins, includes a very thoughtful clause. In the use agreement [PDF] between the team and the new Ballpark Authority is this: During the first 10 years at the new stadium, set to open in 2010, if and when the Pohlad family sells the team, the Authority will get as much as 18 percent of the sale price. If, in year one, for instance, the team sells for $500 million, the Authority — the public — would get $90 million to help pay down the stadium’s debt.

It’s not ownership, but it is a windfall profits tax on the Pohlads, and the public gets a piece of the upside of the pie. Economically speaking, to me that’s more progressive than the Packers’ structure, in which citizen stockholders get no return on their initial investment.

Spiritually, Green Bay is the 20th-century version of MyFootballClub. There are more than 112,000 “fans” who own a certificate that says they own a piece of the Packers. But that legion gets no vote on transactions, hirings, firings, uniform changes, whatever.

That sets the MyFootballClub apart and leads to this fundamental question: “Are fans smart enough to run a sports team?”

“Fans already do run teams, don’t they?” Will Brooks countered.

“How so?” I asked.

“The boards of most football clubs are football fans,” he said of filthy-rich owners. “And quite often the boards haven’t been very smart. We’ll be different.”

Who’s a bigger fan than Vikings owner Zygi Wilf? He should have been drug-tested after roaming the sidelines last Sunday at Giants Stadium. But Zygi and his pals own the team. They decide.

The rest of us — talk-radio-phoning yahoos and effete snobs alike — we can only watch, cheer and boo. Unless we buy a piece of Ebbsfleet.

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Comments (5)

  1. Submitted by John Olson on 11/29/2007 - 07:14 am.

    As a Yankee who follows English football (aka “soccer”)closely, there are two very important aspects to keep in mind:

    A) The English are rabid about their football. Moreso than we are about our version of football. They know the neck size of each players dress shirt. It will be interesting to see how they manage player transfers.

    B) Unlike American sports, football clubs that finish in the top of their division are promoted to a higher level, so it is not impossible (but very, VERY difficult) for a club to move all the way up to the Premiership where teams like Manchester United and Liverpool reside. As these teams move up the promotion ladder, the Football Association (their equivalent of our NFL) provides additional monies. The reverse also is true: if you go down a level, what the FA giveth, the FA taketh away.

    So it is not a stretch to say that an investment in a club like this could reap large rewards down the road. Having been to a couple of these smaller clubs in the past, they are organized more like a private country club over here. Many have “clubhouses” that are the equivalent of a clubhouse at an American country club. So if you buy a pint and a dinner at the clubhouse, you are also supporting the team. Need to book a reception hall? Many have this.

    It is also worth noting that Americans currently own three Premier clubs: Manchester United (Glazer family/Tampa Bay Buccaneers), Aston Villa (Randy Lerner/Cleveland Browns) and Liverpool (Tom Hicks/Texas Rangers, Dallas Stars and George Gillett/Montreal Canadiens, NASCAR-Evernham). Big bucks–very big bucks.

    Having American ownership at Premier level has caused a fair amount of consternation over there, although I suspect that if a well-heeled character like Sir Richard Branson (hypothetically) bought the NY Yankees or the Red Sox, the local fan base on this side of the Atlantic would be in an uproar as well.

  2. Submitted by Spadafora Spadafora on 11/29/2007 - 02:42 pm.

    According to Forbes Magazine, the average “market value” of an NFL franchise is $957 million.

    A $500.000 investment in a $1 billion “community owned” NFL franchise would give me a 1 in 2000 share (or 0.05%) of team profits/losses and decision making authority.

    Franchise appreciation is where the lion’s share of profits are made, but selling the franchise to cash-in defeats the purpose of “community ownership.”

    With the new ticket scalping laws, I’d rather invest $500,000 in 100 premium seat licenses.. start a ticket agency that modestly doubles the selling price of $150 seats… recoup my investment in four years or less and then own 100 premium seat license assets that I could probably sell for more than their original $5000 price.

    Think “community ownership” of the new Vikings stadium, not “community ownership” of the franchise.

    Trust better football minds to make the teams decisions.

  3. Submitted by John Olson on 11/29/2007 - 05:09 pm.

    There are (literally) hundreds of football clubs in England. By comparison, you have 32 NFL franchises. Being a part of an oligopoly gives you a lot more leverage for lots of different things.

    I don’t disagree with the idea of a community owning a stadium, but don’t “we” already own the Metrodome via the Sports Facilities Commission?

  4. Submitted by Spadafora Spadafora on 11/30/2007 - 12:39 pm.

    The construction cost of the new Dallas Cowboys stadium is comparable to the proposed price of the new Vikings stadium.

    Here’s a link to a recent article about the proposed costs of Cowboys premium seat licenses.

    http://www.dallasnews.com/sharedcontent/ dws/news/localnews/cowboysstadium/storie s/112907dnmetseasontickets.2bd58bf.html

  5. Submitted by Spadafora Spadafora on 11/30/2007 - 02:10 pm.

    If anyone’s having problems with the link, the Dallas Morning News story is titled “Dallas Cowboys fans wrestle with $100K price tag on seat rights.”

    That’s 20X the $5K price I suggested for Vikings premium seat licenses.

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